What’s in a Plan? Everything! How UK is Moving Assessment Forward through Intentional Planning

November 17, 2016 Tara Rose


Being the only research intensive, land grant institution in the state of Kentucky, a LEAP State, the University of Kentucky (UK) tends to get asked quite often to ‘pilot’ national or state initiatives. One of these projects reminded me of why I developed the passion for the art of assessment in the first place.  The Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Quality Student Learning (MSC) was a project that began in 2013. This project had vision; it stressed the ‘big picture’; it asked, “What if?”

The MSC model is very similar to what UK is already doing on campus: starting with collecting a random sample of student assignments from our general education courses.  While the MSC focuses on seniors, UK typically gathers work from freshmen and sophomores. This difference was both a challenge and an opportunity for UK. Though it wasn’t easy to recruit faculty who teach in the major for a ‘pilot’ project with an unknown result, it did offer an opportunity to engage faculty in meaningful assessment processes while measuring a proxy for value-added learning.

When collaborating with faculty I emphasize the importance of intentional planning.  I stress that it’s fantastic to know what the end should look like, and it’s great to have ‘big picture’ thinking; however, what will the faculty do, exactly, to get there?  What are the steps the faculty and programs need to take in order to bring the big picture to fruition?

Well, it took two years of intentional planning and two years of actual implementation, but the MSC project has finally become a reality on our campus.   The vehicle – Outcomes Assessment Projects (formerly Aqua) by Taskstream.  The resources/parts – AAC&U and SHEEO.  The driver – faculty.

How did we get there?

As an assessment practitioner I knew I needed to offer flexibility in collecting student assignments and to define different levels of engagement (faculty always want to know the ‘exact’ time commitment). So I created two levels for faculty engagement (minimal and deep) – and explicitly stated what was expected for each one. Additionally, I created a detailed reporting and feedback process (which is essential to building an assessment culture). Lastly, I needed to help faculty see the connection between the MSC project and other internal assessment processes on campus.

I questioned: how can we gauge the level of student learning occurring by outcome area by using authentic student work at the senior level? I also wondered: how would faculty from other higher education institutions score our students’ work compared to how UK faculty score our students’ work?  These questions and reflections helped me create the steps needed to see the bigger picture – a vision for student learning at the University of Kentucky.

While I targeted faculty that taught primarily seniors, I wanted all faculty to see a benefit to participating in the MSC. Since this pilot project was simply proof-of-concept and I knew I was unable to give them any generalizable results based on senior data, I chose to collect all student assignments within their course regardless of student classification (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) and have all assignments scored internally. My office then created individualized faculty reports with data (including demographics) for all their students in their course – not just seniors – as a way to inform pedagogy and curricula through the use of assessment data.

Where are we now?

Since Spring 2015, UK’s MSC project has gone from assessing two outcomes, Quantitative Literacy and Written Communication, to four, by adding Civic Engagement and Critical Thinking. We have had 20 different disciplines represented within 26 courses.  Thirty distinct faculty members agreed to participate by submitting 517 senior level assignments, while 39 distinct faculty agreed to participate in the internal norming and scoring sessions on campus. Internally, the faculty have scored 741 students assignments over 4 outcomes in the past year and half.

I am passionate about assessment and thankful UK has the opportunity to be a part of this exciting project – the MSC.  It’s critical that institutions look at what students can do with what they know by gathering actual student work. But UK has multiple assessment initiatives on campus – a commonality I’m sure, within all higher education institutions. It is essential we bring those initiatives together to help tell our institution’s story – Our Story Matters, Learning Matters, Students Matter.

In addition to supporting the MSC, Outcomes Assessment Projects (formerly Aqua) by Taskstream has been tremendously valuable in moving our assessment processes on campus forward.

At UK, administrators are seeing the results and interpreting the data at the University level, while faculty are more engaged at the course level and making connections between assessment initiatives on campus. Below are some examples of those initiatives and how Outcomes Assessment Projects (formerly Aqua) is supporting the assessment process to advance quality student learning on our campus.

General Education Assessment: “The UK Core Education Committee (UKCEC) has spent considerable time this year developing a new, long-term plan for assessing our general education program which represents a critical component to our SACS efforts. This revised approach will require a system such as Outcomes Assessment Projects (formerly Aqua) to effectively and efficiently manage the process that this faculty committee has approved. Outcomes Assessment Projects (formerly Aqua) represents a vast improvement from previous products.” – Dr. Chris Thuringer, Business Data Analyst, Analytics and Technologies

Quality Enhancement Plan: “Existing data procedures surrounding the direct assessment of student work for the Faculty Fellows program are inefficient, out-of-date, and inconvenient for both administration and evaluators. The Outcomes Assessment Projects (formerly Aqua) system provides a much-needed centralized software solution to aid with the collection, evaluation, and archival of student products related to the assessment of the University’s Quality Enhancement Plan.” – Chanson Davenport, Assessment Coordinator, Transformative Learning

Curriculum Assessment: “The Outcomes Assessment Projects (formerly Aqua) platform provides the College of Design with the means of effectively assessing creativity across our curriculum. This platform informs the institutional, program, and course specific learning objectives and provides our faculty with the necessary tools for formative and summative assessment of student artifacts. The data that results for this assessment will positively reinforce metrics for student success across all forms of project-based inquiry that are necessary for certification and accreditation protocols of each of our programs.” – Dr. Gregory Luhan, Associate Dean, College of Design

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